Survival Training

No replies
Joined: 06/03/2010

Survival Training
Growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the 50’s was the best thing that ever happened to me; well, maybe not, but close. It was as near enough to the wild untamed wilderness as I could get without running away from home with the “Gypsies” and heading out West. It was a good time in the aftermath of WWII and the Korean War with lots of opportunities for families to make a living, and it was also a good time to buy all kinds of war surplus items, at very cheap prices, for the well-rounded boy who wanted to grow up and be a hermit living in the wild or mountains like Jim Bridger or Kit Carson.

My older brother was into Scouting for a while so I passed the time until I was old enough to be a “Scout” reading every issue of his “Boy’s Life” magazine and any other material pertaining to outdoor living and survival. By the time I was done with Cub Scouts I had Army surplus backpacks, canteens, web belts, hatchets, foxhole shovels, sleeping bags, waterproof match cases, cook kits and anything and everything else I could get from the local surplus store, even parachutes! Some of this equipment stayed with me over the years as I grew into a teenager who could hunt and fish as well as camp out.

Some of my friends and I formed a kind of loose-knit gang of outdoor enthusiasts who hunted and fished whenever we could skip out of our chores and go unnoticed into the woods for as long as we could. We would camp out in our pup tents on weekends or, when our parents would allow, we would even go for a week or so if the weather and our chore load permitted. We became quite well versed in making camps whenever or wherever we could and we practiced our outdoor survival skills until we were old pros. I don’t think there were many times when I was ever caught in the woods without a waterproof match case, pocket knife, compass, salt, a small fishing kit stuffed into an old tin Prince Albert tobacco can that fit neatly into a back jean pocket or shirt pocket and a fishing pole or a gun when I headed into the woods.

There were often times when I would go fishing in the streams for trout or rabbit hunting in the wintery woods, depending on the season, and plan an overnight camp so I could stay out in the woods and enjoy the solitude and wonder of the outdoors. If I had caught a few trout or bagged rabbits or partridge, they were my evening meal along with whatever else I had packed along, usually some snacks like candy bars. If I had planned a longer trip I packed some staples like onions and potatoes as well as an emergency meat entrée (if my fishing or hunting luck was poor), usually something simple like bacon, tinned meat or even sardines and crackers, which always kept well.

I suppose this sounds a bit like Hemingway’s “Nick Adams” tales and that’s probably because I read those short stories and tried to mimic them in my own way. After all, I did live in the U.P. and that was close enough for me. I also read all the adventure magazines like Argosy and True and those tales guided me towards the outdoors even more. As I think back on all this I had a pretty good time as a kid.
Those experiences stuck with me as I grew older and married. We tried to take as many trips to the outdoors as our busy schedules would permit. Sometimes these trips were just for survival, the survival a person needs to stay sane in a hectic world where jobs and work drive you to exhaustion. Other times the trips were planned around a fishing adventure or a hunting trip but they always involved the entire family and often friends and their families as well. The kids were young when we camped out in the Angeles National Forest and yet a bit older when we went to Palo Duro Canyon for a weekend. One of our best camps was for a fishing week in the mountains near Tres Piedres because we had the luxury of a camper and warm weather!
As the kids grew we tried to continue to incorporate them into our trips but that didn’t always work out. My wife and I went anyway; a trout stream is too good to miss when it’s the season opener. One trip to Ruidoso for a turkey hunt was so cold and sleeting that we slept with several layers of clothes and knit caps on our heads and my brother-in-law’s Bronco rear window shattered when he slammed it because it was frozen with sleet and ice! We made do and survived wherever we were and had fun too, which I credit to my early outdoor life.

Sometimes, even as an old experienced adult, if I was out hunting or even just tramping around in the woods for a few hours in the late fall or winter, I would stop for a break and build a small fire just so I could sit and reflect on the world around me. There is something very fundamental about a fire and the enjoyment of its warmth and comfort and, I suspect, a bit of a feeling of safety which we have inherited from our ancestors, and it gave me great pleasure to still be able to make a good fire with only one match and no GPS or anything to help me find my way.

There are so many things that have added to my enjoyment of life over the sixty-five years I have spent chasing the outdoor experience that I can’t list them all. I can safely say I wouldn’t trade one of them for anything else.